Double Top 100 Race Report

This is a race that quite frankly has never really been on my radar. The course is a local legend for being a notorious 5 loop beat down. This year with my friend Alex, I signed up to do it. Since I was doing Lavaredo in June, this seemed like the perfect “training” race. Sure why not? This is ultra running. We do stupid things.

As fate would have it, not long after committing and signing up for the race, the Covid 19 Coronavirus Pandemic started to spiral. I dare say a year none of us will forget. When my “A” race in Italy was cancelled, I was left with Double Top still on my calendar. Most every ultra runner had at least one or more of their races cancelled, and short of doing a virtual race or run, the races came to a screeching halt.

Along with Alex, one of my other close running partners, Sherri and I had all been training on the Double Top course. The State park was still open so we continued to go each week, seeing very small crowds and literally no one on the remote and difficult sections we were on. Each week as the Pandemic got more and more serious, more shut downs and shelter in place orders, we waited for this race to be cancelled as well. With the park still open, and the support of the rangers there, the race became a “virtual” option. Who would do this difficult of a 100 miler with no support, no aid, virtually no help.

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Alex, Sherri and I would talk each week as we were out there of the pros, the cons and the feasibility of actually doing the race. The social climate was also escalating with people very opposed to the race not being out right cancelled. So let me just say a few things here. Our race entries were all rolled over to 2021. We were in no way pressured or even encouraged to attempt this. I personally have looked at all sides of this debate; you can’t really distance yourselves, it’s irresponsible, you would put that community at risk by going there, you could endanger the whole emergency and medical system if something happened to you. The list goes on. I’m not wanting to debate either side of this. I looked at it very seriously. Two weeks before, the three of us decided we were NOT doing it, and then the week before we completely flipped. It’s hard to say what tipped the whole thing. One big factor was the course was going to be marked that weekend (the original race date of April 17, 2020) while we had until the end of May to complete the race as a virtual in possibly a less controversial atmosphere. Frankly, I think for me it was the idea that I loved being in the mountains. The 3 weeks prior when we would go there, it felt like the one thing that made the whole Pandemic life we’d been living, seem to fade away. Mentally it was a God send! The parks were open and we were not breaking any laws. Another idea that helped tip the scales for me was, what else do I have to do besides sitting in my house. Lots of people are out on the streets running “virtual” races on roads, and that didn’t seem the thing for me. I felt like I had a higher risk of spreading the virus or catching it by going to my local grocery store. It might not be the right decision for everyone, but for us it seemed to be.

So we made our plan for an 8:00am start on Friday morning. Alex and I were both running the 100 miler and Sherri was signed up for the 100K, but for fear of missing out, Sherri reached out to race director and decided she was going to attempt the 100 miler with us. It would be here first. It would’ve also been her first 100K for that matter but you know the whole “Go Big or Go Home” motto, ultra runners seems to embrace that like no other!

Our plan was for each of us to drop a car at what would have been an AS location, a couple that you would hit twice during each loop and also a water drop at another. We would each have a cooler stocked with Coke and Ginger Ale and snacks for all of us. We had our own bottled water as to not add any risk in sharing. We would pack “drop bags” of sorts to put in each other’s vehicles such as extra clothes, shoes, jackets, personal fuel, etc. We picked what we thought was the right location for our “main” aid station because of bathrooms being there, and we added a Jet Boil to that location to make hot broth or coffee if needed. We felt we had it pretty well thought through. For Alex and me, this wasn’t our first rodeo at a 100 miler. For Sherri, well you don’t know what you don’t know and we all figure some things out as we go. She knew she was in good hands, we would all stay together and take care of one another. We also didn’t want to involve anyone else in our attempt by asking for crew or pacers, although as soon as I told my husband we were doing it, he immediately said he was coming up the second day to do some miles with us. He had been up there with us on past training weekends, and was also looking for some revenge on the “big” climb of the course.

So there you go. We had our plan set in place. I had a little more time during the week to work on details since Sherri and Alex were both still working from home full time. I created our aid station chart, added encouraging messages to the sides of my water jugs, I made us race bibs, as we decided to call it the Double Top Covid 100. I even created some encouraging messages for us to get at the end of each loop by putting them in little Easter Eggs with some candy treats as well. Even with all the planning, my biggest concern I voiced was my fear of getting in enough calories. Let’s be clear, this is not an easy race course. There’s 28,000 feet of gain and you do it in 5 repeated loops. I hate loop races and try to avoid them. I knew we would have to eat and take in calories but we would not have the selection of aid station spreads that are ready to grab and go. If we didn’t stay on top of calories from the start, we would not be able to handle the brutal climbs in this race as the miles went on.

So with our plans laid out, we checked in with the Race Marshall of sorts and who was also a good friend of mine, Brad. He had spent several days carefully putting signs up marking the turns on the course. We were required to check in and be “officially” started by Brad and text him after completing each loop. We got a quick start photo with a few brief instructions and were off.

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Touch-less, Self-supported, and Self-reporting

It was a little chilly to start with but the sun came out soon and with all the climbing you warmed up quickly. The 20 or so mile loop starts with five miles before getting back to our first car for aid. We would pass one of our cars just 2.5 miles into the loop but we planned not to stop there each loop to try and avoid extra time stopping if not needed. Five miles went quick and back to our first official aid but we were all mostly good and kept moving. The next 7.5 mile section of the course is considered the most brutal. It’s not really bad until the final 2.5 miles, up until then it’s some of the prettiest parts of the course with waterfalls, spring flowers in bloom and more gently rolling hills. Of course by the time you get to round three, four and five of those gently rolling hills, they are mountainous climbs, filled with rocks and it’s endless. Let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves just yet. Loop one was amazingly beautiful, the weather could not be better and the only plan was to enjoy the day and adventure ahead. The beginning of a 100- mile race is always mentally tough. It’s hard sometimes to wrap your head around no matter how many times you’ve done it. The plan is always to focus on just get to the next aid station. We make it to the top of the big powerline climb in a pace probably faster than most of our training runs. I was leading the way and feeling great and hadn’t really realized I probably took that a bit too fast. Sherri and I happily sat on a rock at the top waiting on Alex who it seemed was struggling a little more that day. On previous training runs we were all together on our climbs. I told Sherri I was sure he would bounce back. He was experienced and some days you start out slower. We dropped from there to our next car aid station, made a quick stop and continued on.

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From there you head a couple miles towards the park entrance which would normally be an aid station and where we had dropped water. It’s also where during the first two loops you are required to do an out and back on a connector trail to the Pinhoti Trail (hence at one time the race was called Double Tap, as you tap the Pinhoti twice). It’s nearly a mile down, and yes back up again with some steeper sections. It’s a happy moment when you have finished this section after the second loop and know you don’t have to do it again. That section can be a little warmer during the day so we thought a water drop there would be nice to have. Turns out we all were happy each loop to get to that water stash.

After that out and back, it’s another 5ish miles to complete the loop. Finally, a nice downhill section that is another incredibly beautiful part of the course. A long stretch of it follows a waterfall, has more flowers in bloom and is not nearly as rocky as other sections until you hit the bottom of the falls. Towards the end of the section to the finish of the loop it’s a lot of very rocky climbing. The final push is a section they call the “Switchbacks from Hell”. On the first loop they don’t seem so hellish but eventually they are from the devil himself.

IMG_2026We complete the first loop, try to quickly get what we need and head off for loop 2. Once we are through the next section and back to another car aid we are feeling a little more confident with nearly 1/4 of the race complete. One step at a time. During this section it became increasing more noticeable to Sherri and me that Alex was struggling. I was certain he’d recover and be climbing like the champ he is, but it was taking him a little longer to get there. At some point during this section he told us we could leave him. I assured him we weren’t going to leave him. We were in this together, we needed each other to do it, we were a team. In a regular race if I was with someone who was seriously struggling and told me to go, it would be different. It seemed sort of like hiking the Appalachian Trail (not that I have done that), but you wouldn’t just leave one person behind. The huge Powerline Climb was at the end of the section, Sherri and I knew at the top as we waited on Alex that it wasn’t looking good. We were getting very chilled waiting on him as the cooler weather towards evening set in. When Alex did get to us, he broke the news that he was dropping. I was crushed honestly but not surprised. We had talked about this race, trained for it and planned to do it together. Alex had even done the 100K last year with success, so this was a huge blow. We also knew deep down this was probably a smart decision. It’s a course that only gets harder and harder, and he would drop out now and continue to help us as our crew. We had come to realize by this point, that a crew would be really helpful. Every time we would come into one of our car aid stations, everyone is digging through bags, getting things here and there, trying to remember everything and if it was even at that location. After getting head lamps and warm clothes for the night, Sherri and I were headed towards the entrance and then our final down and back to the Pinhoti tap. We were moving quickly and eager to get that little section over with.

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Because there were very few runners out there and we were all spaced out because of our starting times, we only saw other runners maybe a couple of times. One would be at the bottom of the out and back. We got down there and back out as quickly as we could move, and on to finishing loop 2. It’s dark now but we are feeling confident with Alex taking good care of us and helping us to manage the details. It felt sort of exciting heading into loop 3 when you know you are almost half way there. The next stop when we see Alex, he gives us the weather update. We knew rain was expected over night and had hoped those chances would clear out, but instead Alex convinces us to put our rain jackets in our packs. It proves to be an extremely important decision we probably would not have made had we not had him helping us at this point. Along with rain that is headed in, the wind has picked up. When you are hot a breeze feels nice, but when the wind is blowing hard and you can hear the trees hitting each other up high, you get a little nervous to say the least. Soon enough we are down on the lower section of the course and headed over towards the big powerline climb again when it begins to rain. It started slowly and we were quick to put our jackets on. We both put them on over our packs but mine won’t zip up if I cover my pack. The rain itself was very cold but it didn’t feel that cold out. I stayed warm and we both just kept moving. The rain got very heavy at times but when we got to the big climb it wasn’t a huge issue that we thought it might be with water running down it.
The rain had stopped by the time we were back to the car and Alex, where we both got changed into some dry clothes. Sherri’s jacket turned out not to be waterproof and she was soaked. We were hoping the rain was gone for good but the update from Alex was there would be more coming. Alex quickly got Sherri a poncho to use, I gave her an extra jacket for a layer under and we were off again. Seven miles or so and this loop would be done, we were more than half way now. The wind however was not going away and some of the ridges we moved across were getting a little scary. We were thankful when we once again dropped down into a lower section and eventually the wind let up a bit, but the rain came back just as Alex had forecast. It was towards the end of the night and early in the morning. I could feel that Sherri was struggling and also knew she hadn’t been eating well more recently. Just before we started up the long climbs towards the end of the loop I told her she had to eat, and when I told her she knew I wasn’t taking a “no” on that. When it leveled out briefly, I told her that when we finished the loop she would need to take some time and do a reset. Before I could really get into what that meant, she immediately said, “Trena, I love you, but….” I wasn’t totally surprised. While we hadn’t spoken a word of it, I could feel her struggle and saw it in her face. She and Alex had already discussed apparently that she might not be able to finish this, and her knees were now bothering her so bad, she knew it was time for her to tap out. We already knew my husband was coming up, and would be there shortly after we finished the loop. He could do at least 12.5 miles with me, and Sherri said Alex would pace me the last loop. I wasn’t worried about that part, I just hated to see it end for her. Sherri ran the final short section to get an official first 100K finish!

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Waiting for Ed to show up gave us time to get my watch and phone charged up, another set of dry clothes on and warmed up a bit. It was now much colder out, and I needed a jacket back on to get going. It was exciting to see Ed and spend some miles with him. It also happened to be our 28th Anniversary and we even stopped and took a photo at one of the prettiest views on the course. The rain was gone and the fog was starting to roll out. Ed had never paced me before in a race even though I’d done a lot of training miles with him. For me this was some of my favorite miles in the “race” as he encouraged me and assured me I was doing great and moving well.


When Ed and I finally hit the big powerline climb I knew he was wanting a little revenge himself from a few weeks back when he went up it for the first time. I told him not to wait on me during the climb, I would see him at the top. Just knowing he was ahead of me and after this climb, I only had one more of them to do, I powered my way up. From there it was a short drop back to Alex and Sherri crewing us. This was the point Ed was jumping out, even though he was willing to go further, 13-15 miles is his sweet spot and I knew I could do another 7 to finish the loop up. I was surprised when Alex was ready with his running gear on and ready to pace. It was a quick switch, grabbing what I needed, fast goodbye and back on the trail with Alex, who was now a whole new person. He had gotten some sleep, eaten and was moving extremely well as we powered to finish up the loop.

Alex and I discussed the aid station plan before we got there. I wanted to finally change my socks, get something to drink, get head lamps, grab my phone charger and I wanted some sweets for my pack. Skittles and Oreo’s and we were off to get this thing done. As we checked off each section just knowing it was the last time to do it, made it seem bearable. My feet were beyond sore after over 80 miles of rocks and climbs, but I knew that was temporary. It was dark just as we got to the bottom of the powerline climb so we put our lights on and got a snack. Up we went. Seemed like an impossible task but again just one step at a time with Alex encouraging me the whole way. Back to Sherri for the final time before the finish, and off to get it done. In my head I’m counting off the miles. Once we get over to the park entrance and our water stop I asked Alex to lead the way. I’m feeling like I’m moving so slow and think it would help if he leads and I can push my pace off him. When he asks if I want to run some, I quickly agree and we were off running until we hit the bottom and I was about tapped out myself. My climbing legs were almost gone and I felt like I had very little in the tank left. I forced myself to try and stay up with Alex, and the finish was my only focus. It was a bittersweet finish because I really wanted to complete it with Alex, and he had felt so great the last loop and a half with me. Alex will be back next year for his finish, and Sherri and I will be with him to see that he does!

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Double Top Covid 100, touch-less, self-supported, and self-reporting race was over. It was a journey and an adventure. Many lessons learned for sure. Taking care of yourself for 100 miles with no “real” aid stations is tough, I won’t ever take one for granted again in a race, nor will I ever fail to thank the volunteers. It’s often the little things they do for you that you don’t realize how helpful it is. Trails are best shared with friends although sometimes your best laid plans don’t go as you’d like, but we can adjust and adapt. And sometimes the toughest climbs come with the greatest rewards!

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

I’ve been wanting to run an Aravaipa Race for a long time now.  They seem to have so many great races and I really wanted a chance to experience one for myself.  As soon as the 2019 Black Canyon 100K race opened for registration, I talked several of my local running friends into signing up and join the fun.  When I got a chance to meet Jamil Coury at Western States in 2018, I told him we had a big group coming from Georgia for the Black Canyon race.  A lot of us signed up, but many didn’t actually make it to the race, due to injuries.

We flew out to Phoenix on Thursday before the race so we could settle in and have Friday to rest and go to packet pickup.  We had a good dinner and went to bed early for the early race start.  Due to heavy downpours that occurred on Thursday, they had to re-route the course at the last minute.  Huge shout out to Aravaipa Running for all the work that went into that and how smooth the whole race went.  They have tremendous volunteers with very well organized aid stations.  Runners had plenty of options, no matter what your diet might be.

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Starting Line Photo

Because Black Canyon is a point to point race (which, by the way, is one of my favorite race types), we were shuttled to the starting line.  The temps were pretty cool but not crazy cold.  We left our drop bags, used the bathrooms and started the race right on time.

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David and I hung out before the race

 

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John, Stephanie and I all started together

Black Canyon is a race that easily lulls you into thinking it will be a fast and easy run.  It essentially starts with a lot of very non-technical trails that are mostly downhill.  Many runners might find it difficult to keep from going out too fast and crash later as the day warms up.  Stephanie flew out from Knoxville and we once again got to enjoy the trails together.  She is much better at setting a manageable pace at the beginning than myself.  I’m one of those runners that goes out too fast and doesn’t settle into my own pace until much later.  I have been dealing with Piriformis Syndrome for several months and while it is much better, there was the real possibility of it being a long painful day.  I knew I had to let Stephanie lead and go easy.

The start turned out to be windy and cold, with a little rain, but it soon cleared away into a very beautiful and comfortable day.  I was enjoying my morning and the beginning of the race until somewhere around mile 10.  I began to get that uncomfortable feeling in my Piriformis I had been dreading.  I was also beginning to have trouble keeping pace with Stephanie, although I could see she wasn’t far ahead on the beautiful winding trails through the desert.  I chatted easily with those around me and enjoyed the beautiful Black Canyon Trail.  Somewhere before mile 20 and the Bumble Bee Ranch Aid Station, I began to think I needed to tell Stephanie to leave me and thought my day might be much rougher than I wanted it to be.

Luckily, as it often happens, you get a little renewed at the aid stations.  At this aid station, I ended up getting to meet, and got help from, a Facebook friend who I knew from Ginger Runner Live!  That seemed to change my mood.  Stephanie and I chatted and I told her my fear of keeping up with her, but she assured me she didn’t want to go any faster.

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Kim Wrinkle took good care of me

 I left that aid station feeling good, and Stephanie and I enjoyed some beautiful views and took a few pictures in the next section of trail.  Running through the desert is so different from our normal runs so we both took it all in.  I think we both felt a little unsure if we would be able to finish with a sub 17-hour time, which is the requirement for it to count as a Western States Qualifier, but we didn’t discuss those thoughts.  Our goal was to move forward.  We are both solid runners and hikers, and this course was very runnable.

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After we got to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station (mile 23), the trail got much more technical with lots of rocks.  Most of the race was on single track and often had a good bit of rocks, but those are some of my favorite trails.  As long as we kept running steady, my Piriformis remained uncomfortable but not unbearable.  I wasn’t as fast on the hills, but with Stephanie pulling me along, I seemed to have my moments of rallying.   It was also fun in this section as we began to see the top runners racing for the Western States Golden Tickets and cheer them all on.  We made it into the Black Canyon City Aid Station (mile 35) where the reroute of the course began.  At this point we had to do a 4 mile out-and-back section before we would head back to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station and back again to finish.

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I saw Michael and Rebecca Richie just before getting into the Black Canyon City aid station who said David was behind them at the aid station.  Stephanie and I made a quick stop and we headed out for our 4 mile out-and-back.  I didn’t have time to look around and say hi to David.  A mile or so out from the aid station we ran into John, who was headed back into the Black Canyon City aid station.  He also updated us that David was roughly two miles ahead of him.  So everyone was doing well.  Stephanie and I began to set small goals for ourselves.  We wanted to be back and leaving the Black Canyon Aid Station by 5:00 pm.  We kept moving and were happy to make our goal.  We now began the 11 miles back to Gloriana Mine aid station, and then return the same 11 miles back to the finish.  There was a lot of climbing and some big hills midway through this section.  We just broke it down into small pieces and took it one step at a time.  About 4 miles or so from the aid station we passed Michael and Rebecca again.  They told me David had slowed down but they were doing great and everyone was in good spirits.  We kept our eye out for David and John as we were on the last section leading into Gloriana Mine.  We finally came across John who again said David was in front of him by a couple of miles.  In the dark, we had somehow missed him but that wasn’t so surprising.  This section became a little tough in the dark and then you were constantly passing other runners on the single track.  We tried not to shine our lights in the other runner’s faces but it was a constant passing game that seemed to slow us down.  This was one of the downsides to having an out-and-back course with 700 registered runners!  We reached our next goal of getting to the aid station by 8:00 pm and were happy to be headed back to the finish.  We now knew we would easily make the sub 17-hour time we wanted.

Stephanie continued to lead us at a good pace through the technical trails and back to more runnable dirt road sections.  We were able to dig deep and run much better through this section than we had the previous time.  We both seemed motivated to not just finish but finish strong.  We were thrilled to finished in just under 16 hours and meet our goals.  I would like to think we worked together, but I know it was all Stephanie.  She pulled me along and paced us the whole race.  We’ve covered a lot of miles together over the last year or two, and hope we have many more miles and adventures together.

This was a very well run race by Aravaipa Running and I hope to do another one of their races again sometime soon!

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More Photos from the Black Canyon Desert

No Business 100 Race Report

This is probably a race I really had No Business doing, and I say that in all sincerity. I actually signed up for it when registration first opened up in 2017. That was long before I got into the UTMB lottery, which I never dreamed I would get into. I had run part of these trails with my friend Stephanie when we ran Dark Sky 50 miler together in May of 2017. That was the first year of the No Business 100 race and I was all over it but timing wise I couldn’t run it that inaugural year.

Knowing the 106-mile UTMB in August would be a huge challenge, I decided not to withdraw from No Business, but wait until after my race and see how I was feeling. I must say that my coach was not thrilled about me running again so soon, because her first concern was my recovery from UTMB. Nonetheless we made a training plan for me to recover well off UTMB, do a couple longer runs and taper way back before the No Business race. In return, I promised that if I wasn’t feeling completely recovered or my legs were still not there, then I would pull the plug and not run.
Let me also say something here about using a coach. I have loved my coach, and I use one because I trust them and feel strongly about the relationship we’ve developed. If she would have told me not to run this race, I wouldn’t have liked it, but I would have respected her judgment. Recovery is important to me (and my coach) and not just physically but mentally as well. I don’t spend money on a coach and then not listen to their advice and guidance. One of the most important things to me about a coach is that she believes in me. As runners, it’s nice to have friends and family say how great we are and encourage us towards our goals. However, a coach is much more intimately acquainted with us and our abilities. When a coach believes in you, it’s very empowering! Thank you, I love you Meghan!

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I’d lined up crew for No Business back in January, talked to Stephanie some about pacing me, and honestly didn’t give a lot more thought to the race. UTMB was my A-race and No Business did not get much attention until after I came back from Europe in September. That said, early on I did try talking her into signing up and running with me, but being the smart person that she is, Stephanie didn’t fall for my peer pressure. Then just a few weeks before the race, Stephanie gave in, and No Business 100 became her business as well. We already had crew, didn’t need pacers, or a place to stay; we were set. We were looking forward to a beautiful, “easy” race and not having to fight cutoffs like at UTMB. Of course, I’ve learned from experience that when a race gives you longer than 30 hours to finish 100 milers, it’s because you need that time. They aren’t just being nice.

Stephanie and I both went into the race feeling confident in our recovery and excited about the race. We had a solid plan and were ready to spend some more trail-time together. An unexpected rain fell much of the night before the race, so when we got up in the morning it was wet and chilly. We made small adjustments to our gear and what we would carry in our packs. The race begins in Blue Heron, Kentucky, also known as Mine 18, a former coal mining community on the banks of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River. Tipple Bridge at the train depot marks both the beginning and the end points of the race. The course is one large loop, starting in Kentucky at Big South Fork and going into Pickets State Park in Tennessee and then back around into Kentucky.

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The race began on time at 6am, so we spent the first hour or so in the dark. It was a large crowd that narrowed right onto the long Tipple Bridge and an instant conga line ensued. The first few miles were a nice rolling single track and enjoyable to run. Stephanie and I began and ran comfortably for the first 15-20 miles in the upper-middle portion of the pack. We spent a few miles with our friends, Kirby and Caitlin, who went on to run at their pace after we began to take walk breaks on a long fire road section of the course. The road sections were very hard on our legs. Stephanie and I talked about how real the UTMB legs were, leading us to set a more cautious pace. For those who like numbers we ran our first 30K in about 8:15. When we saw our crew around 25 miles we were told we were about 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff.

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The next time we saw our crew was in Picket State Park (42 miles in). There we took a few more minutes to change into dry cloths, got our headlamps out, and changed socks and shoes for the only time during the race… we also took advantage of the restrooms. Stephanie had started having some minor stomach issues, but they weren’t causing her to slow down. We’d maintained our 1.5-hour cushion on cutoffs and were soon off again feeling refreshed from our change of clothes and would see our crew again around mile 61.
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Stephanie’s coach, Alondra Moody was working the Bandy Aid Station at mile 61. When we arrived there, Stephanie and I were now only 30 minutes ahead of cutoffs. We needed to quickly take care of a few things and head back out. Alondra helped Stephanie get something for her stomach issues, hoping to settle things down for good. Once we were back on the trail, we began talking about how we could have possibly lost the hour. Looking at the cutoff sheet now, it was night time so normally you do begin to go slower. In that section we had just under 6 hours to cover approximately 20 miles, hitting three aid stations along the way. Again, for you math nerds that’s about an 18-minute pace, at night including AS stops. Even with quick stops you now have about 17-minute pace, at night with lots of climbing. Wherever our time went all we could do was get to the next AS 5 miles away and work with the time we had. Stephanie began to calculate that we had 14.5 hours to finish, as the race was really a 104-mile course. In short, we had another 44 miles or so miles to go in 14.5 hrs.

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Getting into the next AS at Grand Gap, there was a huge crowd with lots of people we both knew. Immediately we were asking about cutoffs… still just 30 minutes. At this point, Stephanie and I were stressed and frustrated. Chasing cutoffs is not a fun way to run, and we had felt we were running solid – pacing well, running all the flats and downhills, and only slowing down to climb. Having just completed UTMB 6 weeks prior, we were thrilled with our pace. We felt like our legs were good. Neither of us had foot issues to speak of, and only Stephanie with some stomach issues. If you are not a back of the pack runner you might not understand how it feels to run from one cutoff to the next, it’s a very stressful thing. On the one hand you are trying your hardest, not gaining on cutoffs. You don’t want to be cut, but you also begin to calculate how long until you slip up and miss. At that point, all your hard work is snatched right out from under you… STRESS!!!

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We had a 6.5 miles loop to do and back to that AS. Due to the increasing stress, challenges of nighttime navigation, and Stephanie’s stomach issues, I took over as lead runner pacing us during the night hours. Stephanie had paced us and pushed us well during the daylight, and now it was my turn to try my best to keep us moving at a good pace. During the last section of the loop Stephanie began to fall behind, but I kept trying to push us both. For a while I’d assumed Stephanie was the person running behind me. Once I stopped to check on her, I realized she’d fallen off and another runner was there instead. He advised me that he’d seen Stephanie some distance back throwing up. Being close to the finish of the loop, I was concerned that Stephanie would not be able to continue for long. I pushed ahead to the AS to get to our crew. It was the middle of the night and I knew if I continued the race, I’d be on my own. I wasn’t sure how much farther I could get before being pulled for missing the cutoff, but I knew I couldn’t just quit. My legs felt great, my feet were fine, my stomach was fine, we’d been eating good and running well to this point. Short of Stephanie continuing I was ready to keep moving. She soon came into the AS and told our crew, she was done. I was quickly headed out with still only 1/2 hour to spare. I would see our crew again in 7 miles.

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Alone, but more than able to run strong, I kept a solid pace. I ran as much as I possibly could, determined to make up time. One-by-one I passed people along the way; 10-12 runners in a 7-mile section. I got to the next AS thinking for sure I had made up time and was going to be OK. To my surprise, I arrived only to hear that I now only had 2 minutes to spare! All I could do was keep going. Now 80 miles into the race, there are 24 more to go. I’m unsure how much time I have to reach the next AS cutoff which is 9.2 miles away, so I grabbed food and ate on the trail. I chatted briefly with a guy I met in the race earlier in the day. He didn’t have any ideal about the next cutoff time and soon ran ahead and out of sight. I didn’t see any lights behind me after that.

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While I was determined to run solid, this section of the course was very technical, rocky, and now muddy, and messy trails. Rain had been falling for hours but now it was raining much harder. At this point, all I could do was focus, keep moving as fast as I could. Knowing that the odds were not in my favor, my hope of finishing were quickly fading. After being by myself for some time, I finally see someone behind me… soon I realize it’s the Grim Reaper and I think I might join Stephanie by throwing up! When the Reaper gets closer to me, she lets me know that the cutoff at the AS is 9:00. The bad news is that I’m on pace to reach it at about 9:15… now I’m really sick! I pushed harder, refusing to give up yet. It was so frustrating. I felt great, was running well but just could not get ahead. Then we came across another runner, I passed him and kept pushing. I might miss that cutoff but darn it, I’m not stopping until they stop me. We finally got to the water drop and I was thinking it was another 2 miles probably to the AS. The sweeper had no idea where we were or how far it was when I asked her. Another quick look at my watch and I knew it would probably take a miracle. I was still thinking it would take me until 9:15 to get there. Then the worst climb of the course is straight in front of me. It’s very steep, no end in sight and to make matters worse of course it’s wet, slippery and covered in rocks. Not an easy climb at 86 miles into a race. Now how do they expect me to make these cutoffs with this stuff? Even the 9:15 is looking bleak but I can’t give up. I knew my friends, John and Rebecca (who had been our crew at UTMB,) would be at this AS so I began looking forward to seeing them. I know I can finish this thing. I pass another guy as I continue up and up the hill. He’s sitting on a rock looking in rough shape and I feel his pain, but I can’t join him. I can’t lay down and quit.

Just before the AS one of the workers was there on the road, I think he may have been the captain. It was between 9:15-9:20 and certain I’m well over the cutoff. The first thing I asked was if there was any grace here. I told him how it was a rough section, but I pleaded that I knew I could finish it. When he asks how I’m feeling, I assure the captain that I’m feeling great. He asks for my number and trots ahead to the AS. When I arrive, there are John, Rebecca and the workers cheering for me. They want to know if I have a drop bag they can grab for me and what else I need to get out of there in 2 minutes. I drank some Coke, John put my headlamp in my pack for me, and Rebecca got me some food, and starting walking me out of the AS. The AS captain was told by the race director that the cutoff could be extended 10 minutes. Turns out the cutoff was 9:20, I was the last runner through this AS at 9:24.

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With 7.8 miles to the next AS, I have been assured by Rebecca that the worst is over, and I can finish the course. But, I have to get to the next AS by 11:55. The section begins with some good easy running and I’m gaining confidence that Rebecca was right. But over time the mud, creeks, slick bridges, it all begins to take its toll. By now I’m over 90 miles into this thing, and where the heck is that Aid Station? Just when you think you’ve got the race in hand, along comes another long endless climb! I know I must be close, but I just don’t know how close I am. I’m now too afraid to look at my watch. I swore when I got through the last AS I would prove I could get this race done and not miss this cutoff. At last I see it, I’m afraid to look at the time, but I have to… 11:48, I was never so relieved! I’m asked for my number (37) … “We’ve been waiting for you Number 37, you have two minutes to get out of here.” Now who can’t do the math, I had 7 minutes but I wasn’t going to argue.

Now an easy 2.2 miles to the water stop at mile 99.3 which has a cut off in 1.5 hrs and yes they tell me you do have to make it before the cutoff. So here’s where all that time was hiding. I easily make it there in 30 minutes with loud music playing and a whole AS and not just water. Super nice guys happily chat with me, getting me some broth and coke. Finally a huge sigh of relief. The long fight is nearly over. I finally know I’ll make it. I’m quickly on my way with 4.8 miles to go with around 2 1/2 hrs. I’m so happy, but my feet are sore, those rough sections have taken their toll. I’m no longer stressed and can enjoy the last 4 or so miles.

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It was sweet when I finally crossed the bridge to the finish… a smile on my face and friends there to cheer for me! Some finished before me, some left unfinished business out there, but they all celebrated my finish. It was bittersweet as Stephanie greeted me. We began No Business expecting to cross the finish line together, like UTMB. I have no doubt we will finish more races together.

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Final numbers for those of you still geeking out over them, 96 runners started the race, and 39 of us finished it, only 7 were woman, I finished in 32:21 and was DFL! If you are a real dork (David), last year they also had 39 finishers out of 96 runners who started.

If you are reading looking for more insights, details and information about this race, keep reading if not, carry on. This turned into a much longer report than I had imagined. So, let me share some after thoughts with you about this race and the course more specifically.

1. The first year of the race, 2017, it was run in the clockwise direction with this year being run counter-clockwise. A special buckle is awarded to those completing the race in both directions I think that prize brought back several return runners, along with runners who had some unfinished business from that first year. If you are reading this looking for information to run the race, keep in mind this report is from running it in the counter-clockwise direction. Looking at the finish times and talking to people who ran it both years, it might indicate that this was the harder direction.

2. It’s an absolutely beautiful course! If you want to run some of the most beautiful trails in the Southeast with rock overhangs, arches, lots of creek crossings, endless little bridges, some very technical sections, and lots of single track, you want to put this one on your list. The overall cutoff was 33 hours, and I would not be surprised to see them extend it in future years. It’s still a new race at this point and they are still working on making small adjustments. Believe me, they do want you to finish!

3. Your feet are going to get wet. No matter which direction the race is run there are lots of water crossings and you will get wet. The bigger ones are towards the end of the clockwise direction and the direction I did it, they were more in the first 1/2 of the race. I use Bag Balm and coat my feet before putting on socks. I did one shoe change and recoated my feet with Bag Balm at mile 40. Because of the rain, mud and constant creeks my feet stayed wet. My feet were in really good shape at the end, but I can’t promise what I did will work for you. Some people use Trail Toes and other products. This is just what I did and it worked well for me. Just so you know, you will have wet feet.

4. If you live close enough be sure to try and run some of the training runs the RD’s puts on. I can imagine that the more familiar you are with the course, the more helpful it would be. You can also run Yamacraw 50K which is held on some of the Kentucky trails, or Dark Sky 50 Miler which covers some of the Tennessee section. The course was fairly well marked at turns, lots of arrows and flagging, although I would say not heavy on the confidence marking. Once on a trail that didn’t turn off, it wasn’t overly marked. I think a few people may have complained and that may change in future years. My experience was you need to keep a close eye out for the markings especially late when you are tired. One missed turn can cost you time you may not have to make up.

5. Study the AS cutoff charts… a big fail on my part. I didn’t go in with a plan, just crew at five places. We had a cutoff chart but never really studied it or looked at it until we started running closer to cutoffs. It might have help to pay attention sooner to those.

6. If you like having pacers, you can pick them up as early at mile 40 I think. An extra set of eyes for trail markings and someone to keep you moving if you are a mid to back of the pack runner could be very helpful.

7. The AS are really awesome. Very helpful and upbeat each time you come in. They serve a great selection of food with lots of hot foods later in the race as well. I can’t speak highly enough about how well this race is put on.

8. The swag is also awesome. We got a very nice light weight North Face Hoodie, a buff, a pair of socks and some stickers. They also had additional technical long sleeve shirts you could buy as well as a couple of hat choices if you wanted a hat. Over all I thought they gave you a lot for your money. I might also say that the buckle is also very sweet, and if you finish the course in both directions they give you a second buckle that is very nice looking as well. You can tell they gave a lot of attention to details putting this race on.
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